My flight ends up being delayed by two hours and it’s already after 10pm when I arrive, so Piotr and I decide to go in search of food immediately. We stroll in mostly silence, though each time I glance at him, he stares back with a wide smile.
Fears of the conversation we need to have are slowly melting away and being replaced with thoughts of a cut-and-run approach. Maybe I’ll just enjoy the weekend, fly home, and then break if off via email. No, that’s shitty. If I’m going to end it, I should at least do it in person. But then he’s going to want to know why.
He’s young enough that I doubt he really gets the whole, “It’s not you, it’s me” thing. Most likely he’ll internalize an unclear separation, assuming there’s something wrong with him; his looks, his English, his dick.
The restaurant is huge and noisy. There isn’t much of a need to catch up since we’ve been in contact nearly every day for the last month. I mostly sit in silence, hearing him talk about work and finishing his thesis, but I’m not really listening. Everything he’s saying is being drowned out by my inner monologue about the when and how of of the breakup conversation, or whether I want to have it at all.
“There’s something I need to say to you,” I blurt out as we are halfway through our pizza.
Wordlessly, he raises his eyes from his plate.
“I, um . . . ” I pause, stumbling over my words.
“Listen, I don’t really know what’s happening between us. I mean, I don’t know what you’re looking for and I don’t know what I’m looking for, and maybe we don’t even need to talk about that right now but, um, I feel like I just want to say to you . . . ”
He doesn’t look upset or concerned at all. He’s smiling back at me like he’s expecting me to pull out an engagement ring.
“I just want to say now that I don’t know what exactly this is going to turn into or whether we want a relationship or what it would be. What I can offer you isn’t going to look like any other relationship you’re ever going to have. But if you can accept everything that’s strange about being with me, I can take you places sexually, intellectually, aesthetically, that no one else will. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work but I can promise that whatever happens, I’ll always be honest with you.”
“Okay,” he says. “It is the sexually part I’m most curious about.”
We both laugh and I squeeze his thigh under the table.
It’s a nice night and we decide to walk for a bit before getting on the metro. I’d debated whether or not I would rent a hotel again, in case things went awry. In the end, I accepted the offer to stay at his place. I figured I could always run away in the dead of night and find another place to stay if it gets messy.
He lives a good distance from the city centre and we go to the second from last stop on the metro before getting on a bus to continue our journey. Most of the trip is silent, with both of us smiling at the sensation of our legs touching. From the bus stop, it’s another 10-minute walk to a Communist-era concrete apartment complex.
His flat looks a like an eccentric ski chalet. The walls and ceiling are panelled in dark wood. The shelves are lined with books in Polish and Russian, intermingled with antique-like metal kitchen implements and ceramic ballerinas.
I drop my backpack and we embrace for our first real kiss since my arrival. I gradually walk him backwards, our mouths still locked, until I ease him onto the floral printed couch and slowly lower myself on top of him. The sex is slightly less fumbling than last time. He seems more confident but still mostly unsure of where to put his hands. After 10 minutes I suck him off and he comes quickly in my mouth.
For most of the next day, thoughts of impending doom are largely absent. He makes us a giant omelette for breakfast and then we decide to take a long walk into the centre. He points out his university, the TV station where he works, the first McDonald’s in Poland.
The city seems oddly American: wide streets chock-full of cars, glass towers with illuminated bank logos erupting from the earth, billboards screaming about lipstick and smartphones in every direction.
The temperature has started to drop so we find a coffee shop to warm up. We order,and I step into the washroom while he’s waiting for our drinks. My face is still cold from being outside, but I splash it with water anyway and stare at myself in the mirror.
Maybe I should tell him while we’re here. He’s less likely to scream and freak out if we’re in public. Then again, he’s also less likely to offer an honest response. I’ve had my share of guys pretend to be okay with the fact I’m a hooker, only to ditch me without explanation a few days later.
Whatever he thinks of it, I’d rather know from the beginning, instead of having to read between the lines for his true feelings. The door handle rattles. I flush the toilet to make it seem like I was actually pissing, and pat the water off my face with a paper towel.
When I return, he’s sitting with two steaming paper cups, flicking at his phone. He shows me some photos of his parents and his dog. The words I need to say are resting on my tongue, ready to come out. They gradually get soggy and I swallow them, hoping I can manage to spit them back up later. We talk about where to go that night, but ultimately decide to head back to his place, have dinner and watch TV.
He sits at the kitchen table while I chop vegetables. Every time there’s a pause in the conversation, I debate pulling the pin on the grenade. But everything about the situation feels so . . . comfortable. Not like we’re two guys getting to know each other, but like we’ve already been dating for a year.
He pulls up House of Cards on his laptop from where we left off last time. We eat pasta and drink wine in silence. Tired from the fresh air and slightly drunk, we opt for an early bedtime. There’s no sex but we exchange a good night kiss. I fall asleep with his arm draped across me.
I wake to see his side of the bed already empty. I find him in the kitchen, listening to Polish radio and flipping pancakes. He hands me a coffee and I sit at the table. Sunlight is streaming through lace curtain, slicing through the steam rising from my cup. I glance at the clock. My flight is just over seven hours from now. Do I destroy the day, or just enjoy it — and then dump him by email tomorrow?
I don’t really taste the pancakes, despite the fact they’re slathered with a thick layer of Nutella. His demeanour seems a little different and I wonder if he can sense that something’s wrong. Full of sugar and flour, we retire to the living room and curl up on the couch, my head in his lap.
I close my eyes and imagine we’re lying on a beach somewhere, 10 years in the future. This place where I am right now, this moment, I’ll look back at it and laugh at how worried I was, wonder why I created so much stress for myself. I’ll be so thankful that I told him and so overjoyed when he said he could accept me.
I sit up and stare into my coffee.
“Um, last night at dinner . . .”
“There was something else I wanted to tell you. Something I didn’t say.”
I look up at him and he’s still smiling. Fuck. He has no idea what’s going on. He thinks I’m about to deliver a piece of good news.
“So, you know I’ve had sex with a lot of people. What I wanted to say is that sometimes, when I have sex with certain people, um, it’s not for free.”
“What I mean is that sometimes I have guys who help me out with money — and I have sex with them.”
He still says nothing but his expression has changed. He doesn’t look angry but he’s not smiling anymore.
“Do you want to ask me anything about that?”
We sit in silence for what feels like three hours, even though I’m sure it’s less than a minute. I know he must be thinking something but his expression is totally blank — emotionless.
“Can you just say something so I know how you feel?”
He takes a sip of his coffee, and lets out a long sigh.
“I don’t really know what this is, this thing that you say. But I know that I really like you and I really miss you when you are not here. And I want to see you still.”
It’s not a total affirmation and celebration of my life choices, but it’s not an outright rejection either. I decide to just take the win and let it go for now, rather than back him into a corner and demand that he take a definitive position.
The rest of the day goes by as if what happened in the morning never took place. We watch a bit more of House of Cards, and then take the metro to the centre so I can catch my the airport shuttle.
There’s still five minutes left until I depart, but he stands outside the bus staring at me through the window.
My phone buzzes.
New message: “Thank you for telling me. I still like you.”
Reply: “Thank you for listening. I miss you already.”
New message: “Come back soon.”
Reply: “I will. But please leave now otherwise I will start to cry.
He blows me a kiss, turns and walks into the night.
The bus winds its way through the pitch-black Polish countryside. A few people have reading lights on and the reflection of my face on the window blocks out the passing landscape.
There are so many reasons why this is all a terrible idea: the age difference, the geographic distance, the language barrier. Still, I have a tiny sliver of hope that the thing I believed was the biggest obstacle to falling in love might be just a little bit smaller than I’d thought.